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Episode 33 | SCRIPT

by Kevin Patton


Test Frequency in the A&P Course

The A&P Professor podcast (TAPP radio) episodes are made for listening, not reading. This transcript is provided for your convenience, but hey, it’s just not possible to capture the emphasis and dramatic delivery of the audio version. Or the cool theme music.  Or laughs and snorts. And because it’s generated by a combo of machine and human transcription, it may not be exactly right. So I strongly recommend listening by clicking the LISTEN button provided.

American Association of AnatomistsThis searchable transcript is supported by the
American Association of Anatomists.
I’m a member—maybe you should be one, too!

Episode 33 Transcript

Testing Frequency in A&P


Kevin Patton: The writer and educator, Will Durant, once wrote, “Every science begins as philosophy and ends as art.”

Aileen: Welcome to The A&P Professor, a few minutes to focus on teaching Human Anatomy and Physiology, with host, Kevin Patton.

Hair color inheritance

Kevin Patton: This episode has updates in how we inherit red hair, how we build the somatosensory body map, and I answer a question about frequency of tests and exams in the A&P course. In my A&P course, the very first human body system that we start talking about is the integumentary system, the skin. And there are many reasons why that works out really well, but one of them is that the skin is the organ and the integumentary system is the organ system that is most familiar to everybody, I think. I mean, we see our skin all the time. We interact with our skin a lot so makes a good starting point.

Kevin Patton: And part of this whole system is the hair. And there’s a lot of variation in hair color, in hair texture, and so on, and that often piques the curiosity of our students. And they know that it has a lot to do with genetics. And a lot of times their background in genetics is very basic, and the classic way of looking at these sorts of traits is to think about this gene or that gene or this version of a gene and that version of a gene that’s going to control this trait or that trait.

Kevin Patton: But we’re finding out that hair color inheritance is controlled by a number of different genes. Just like most complex traits in the human body, we’re finding out more and more that there are more and more genes involved. As a matter of fact, there’s an emerging idea called the omnigenic model, which states that, “All complex traits that are inherited are controlled by all the genes.” Either directly or indirectly, all the genes have some input in the expression of any complex trait that we have in the body, and that would include possibly or probably hair color.

Kevin Patton: Now, red hair is something that has been of interest to the human race for a long time, I think, and certainly recently in terms of its inheritance. And you may have heard that there is a gene called MC1R that is a single gene that has recently been thought to control red hair color. But there’s some newer research that shows that, well, it’s not so simple, that it’s more of a polygenic or perhaps even omnigenic effect going on here with red hair. So those previous studies, they showed that redheads inherit two versions of that MC1R gene, and so having those two MC1R genes is what leads to having red hair. So one comes from their mother and one comes from their father.

Kevin Patton: And just about everybody with red hair does have two copies of that red hair diversion of MC1R. But not everyone carrying two red hair versions of MC1R ends up actually being a redhead. So we kind of knew all along that there must be other genes involved, but we didn’t really know which genes or what their involvement was. But some researchers at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland have looked at DNA from 350,000 people. That’s a lot, who had taken part in the United Kingdom Biobank study. They were looking at this inheritance of hair color, particularly red hair, and they were okay with studying people that were mainly of European descent because that group has probably the greatest variation of hair color of any gene pool that they could have looked at.

Kevin Patton: When they did the comparisons between redheads and people with brown hair, black hair, they identified eight genes or genetic differences that hadn’t been identified before that were all associated with red hair. And they started looking at the functions of those genes. And as they started looking into these things, they found that there were a couple of hundred genes associated with people with blonde hair and brunette hair. And they really started identifying that there’s a gradient of color from black through dark brown, light brown, different shades of blonde. Those are all a result from genetic differences among these couple hundred genes that they were looking at. Some of those genes actually triggered differences not just in hair color but also hair texture, and the growth of hair in terms of its curliness or its straightness, for example.

Kevin Patton: So if you want to know more about the genes involved in hair color, as we know it right now, it’s probably going to change in the next couple of years, that was published in Nature Communications, and I have a link to that in the show notes on the episode page at theAPprofessor.org. But just stepping back from this for a moment, I want to emphasize the fact that when the inheritance of hair color comes up, I think this is a good opportunity to really enlighten students that complex characteristics like hair color are not as simple as those pea experiments of Gregor Mendel. It’s not really just one gene or this gene, just a few different genes. There are hundreds of genes involved and hundreds of combinations, and there’s a lot of things we don’t know about yet. So hair color, along with skin color and other complex traits, is very, very complex and it might even be a good opportunity to introduce the idea of polygenic traits and even the idea of omnigenic model of how genes work.

Sponsored by AAA

Kevin Patton: A searchable transcript and a captioned audiogram of this episode are funded by AAA, the American Association of Anatomists, at Anatomy.org.

Building body maps

Kevin Patton: In my A&P course, when we get to the nervous system and eventually start talking about the various functions of the cortex and dive into that postcentral gyrus where the somatosensory center is, where we have usually in most diagrams, in textbooks, charts, and so on, they’ll have a little homunculus, that is a little miniature human that’s all distorted because we have this built-in body map where we can sense the different regions of our body. They’re mapped out to different areas of that somatosensory cortex, and it’s fun to look at that and compare and contrast how much incoming sensory input we’re getting from different parts of the body where our lip, for example, are getting a lot, but our forehead not so much or our fingertips are getting a lot of sensory information but our elbow not so much. And that little homunculus, meaning that little miniature human diagram that’s all distorted, it helps us understand that map and picture in our mind’s eye how that map works.

Kevin Patton: And one of the things I like to talk about is the fact that a lot of that involves learning. We have to figure out that map. We have to connect the sensation in our fingertip with what’s actually going on in the brain and actually start forming that. And some new information was just recently published in Scientific Reports where researchers were measuring brain waves produced when newborn babies kick their limbs during their REM, that is the rapid eye movement stage of sleep. In doing these studies, they found out that a lot of that kicking that’s going on, especially in the late stages of pregnancy, in the third trimester, that helps grow areas of the brain that deal with that sensory input and help us make that map. And so we’re really starting to get to the point where we’re working out the mechanisms of how that map-making in our brains work.

Kevin Patton: If you want more information, more detail on that, I have some links in the show notes and at the episode page at theAPprofessor.org, but I think it’s a good thing to drop in there when we’re discussing this in class that there is this learning process involved, and that’s going to really help us understand why certain amount of activity in utero as well as as infants is necessary for proper brain development, so that our brains actually work the way we want them to work by the time we get older.

Preview episodes

Kevin Patton: Regular listeners of this podcast may have noticed that a few days before the last few episodes have come out, I released a brief preview episode ahead of time. And each of those preview episodes include a brief synopsis of what the upcoming topics are going to be in the full episode and there might be an announcement or two related to the podcast. And then I usually have a few word dissections just like we do with our students in class where we pull apart some term that might relate in some way to something we’re going to be talking about on the full episode just to get us into the mode of the language of science and medicine. And then I’ll usually have one or two recommendations of books from the A&P Professor book club, books that you might find useful or interesting as an A&P teacher.

Kevin Patton: So what I need to know is are these helpful to you at all? Are they something you want to see continue, or are they something you’d rather do without? Is there some feature you’d like to see that I’m not doing? Is there something I’m doing that you’d rather I not do? So just let me know, and I sure would appreciate it.

Sponsored by HAPS

Kevin Patton: Hey, did you know that HAPS, the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society, is sponsoring a one-day regional meeting in Louisville this spring on March 30th? I’ve attended many HAPS regionals over the years, and they’re great places to meet and network with others who do exactly what you do, teach human anatomy and physiology. Just go to theAPprofessor.org/haps, that’s H-A-P-S, the find out more.

Featured: Test frequency in the A&P course

Kevin Patton: Hey, guess what? We have a call on the podcast hotline.

Krista Rompolski: Hi, Kevin. It’s Krista Rompolski, one of your biggest listeners and biggest fans. I wanted to thank you for your preview episodes. I think they’re very helpful to get an idea of what might be coming up that I need to plan to spend some time on, but also, what are the topics that are on my mind and what’s emerging out there in the research. Your podcast covers a lot of those things, and I really appreciate that.

Krista Rompolski: If you have time in the future, I’d love to hear you talk about the standards or lack of standards out there in A&P education around the frequency of testing. I know that the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society has a HAPS exam, but from my experience some organizations do a final that’s comprehensive. Some do a midterm that’s comprehensive. Some do multiple exams. Some do many quizzes or none at all. Is this an area where there needs or should be any standards, especially with freshmen students in A&P, or does that all fall under what we call academic freedom and depends upon the audience?

Krista Rompolski: There’s just a lot of debates about this topic, and I’m wondering with all of your experience what you think the sweet spot is in the frequency and the form of testing in your … imagine a freshman A&P student. Thanks so much, Kevin. Have a great day.

Kevin Patton: Hey, Krista. Thanks for the feedback on the preview episodes. It’s gratifying to know that they’re helpful. Now, regarding standards on frequency of testing, the answer is yes. I mean, no. Well, I don’t know. Maybe. Okay, that’s not much of an answer, and I’m happy to give an answer. But remember, it’s just my answer, not the answer.

Kevin Patton: I think there are at least two issues embedded here. The first one is, is there an ideal frequency of testing? And secondly, should HAPS or some other organization suggest standards for frequency of testing in the undergraduate A&P course? But before we get to those two central questions, I have a question. What do we mean by the term testing?

Kevin Patton: Testing can mean a lot of different things. For example, how is a test different from an exam or from a quiz or from homework or from practice problems? In my mind, these are all tests because they all test the ability of a student to retrieve and apply the content of our course accurately and meaningfully. So I’m going to approach this using that broad definition of testing. And here’s another rhetorical question we should think about before we go any further with this. Is teaching an art or a science?

Kevin Patton: Now, in my view, it’s both. And Krista, I know you do research in learning science and strongly believe in evidence-based methods of teaching. And I share that belief. Learning science continues to inform us about the principles of how we learn and about the efficacy of various teaching and learning strategies. I think learning science helps us understand each of the various tools in our teachers’ toolbox, and it helps us discover or invent new teaching tools. It helps us learn how to use each tool safely and effectively and how to decide which tool or tools is best for which teaching and learning scenario, and that’s where the art comes in, that is in the choosing of teaching methods to meet particular goals with a particular set of students in a particular program and in exactly how we’re going to apply each of the methods we’ve chosen and maybe even how to make specific modifications to help particular students with particular challenges.

Kevin Patton: Okay, I haven’t even started to answer the question, have I? I know this about myself. I tend to take so much time setting up my answer to just about any question that most folks have tuned out before I have a chance to give my answer. So for those few of you still with me, here it is. I don’t think we can say that there’s an ideal frequency of testing, but we can’t leave it at that. I don’t want to leave it at that. You don’t want me to leave it at that, so I won’t.

Kevin Patton: First, what does the current literature of learning science say about frequency of testing? Well, right now it seems kind of mixed. I think what’s clear is that frequent retrieval practice is a highly effective way to learn, and what is testing if not retrieval practice? So learning science says that a high frequency of testing is beneficial. But I don’t think learning science is very clear on what exact form that testing should take in every course, and I doubt that it can, except in a very general sense. So I don’t think that we can definitively say that there’s a certain combination of homework, quizzes, tests, exams, and so on that will work best for everyone all the time partly because I think there’s an art to it when we get to that level.

Kevin Patton: And an art by its nature is aesthetic. It involves finding what is pleasing and beautiful, and because art is in the eye of the beholder, there’s necessarily an element of individual sense of style, tastes, and balance or disruption of balance in some cases. In my experience over several decades, I’ve been playing around a lot in the paint and clay of the art of teaching anatomy and physiology. I’ve had daily quizzes and weekly tests. I’ve had a midterm and final as the only tests in a course. I’ve done all kinds of combinations of testing. And what that experience tells me is that I find my students do best when they’re tested several times a week and when all the tests are cumulative. That’s where I’ve found beauty for me and my students, where the outcomes are beautiful and pleasing to everyone.

Kevin Patton: Now, I know what some of you are thinking. “How does he have time to do anything else in class, and with all that grading, how does he have time to do anything else outside of class?” Well, those are important questions, and as usual, I have several vague answers. One is, automation. These days, we have available to us learning management systems and even third-party software that can test students in an automatic way. It tests them. It gives them immediate feedback. It can even assign grades and so on. It can point them to other resources and so on. So it’s up to us to set that up in a way that’s appropriate for our students. So that takes some investment of time ahead of the game but once it’s in operation automates a lot of that grading process. So that frees up a lot of time. And because it’s online, it doesn’t all have to be done in class. It can be done outside of class. So that’s going to free up my time as a grader and it frees up the class time, amount of time spent in class on testing activities.

Kevin Patton: And another issue is, what’s a test really, as we said before. In class activities such as solving case studies or clicker questions during a lecture or discussions or concept map building. These are all forms of testing, so we can do frequent testing although it doesn’t always look like a test and we don’t always necessarily label it as a test. And as I mentioned in a previous episode, I have my students do a lot of online testing for a grade and have only two in-class, formal, written, cumulative exams, and that works really well for me. But the thing is, I might experiment with something new I’ve learned from one of you and find something more beautiful to do with my art, and each of you will have your own beautiful art that you are making. Mine might be more of a Jackson Pollack thing and yours more of a Rembrandt thing, but they can both be powerful and effective.

Kevin Patton: So what I’m saying is that perhaps we can say that the ideal frequency of testing in an undergraduate A&P course is a pretty high frequency and just leave it at that because if I recommend anything more specific, I’d be limiting your art, wouldn’t I? And I do think it might be useful for HAPS or some other body to recommend a high frequency of testing as a best practice, but I’m not so sure I’d like to see anything more specific established. One reason is that we’d all be doing the same thing the same way, and innovation could get derailed and any needed change down the road would be that much harder to accomplish because, well, this is the standard, and so we risk something by stepping outside of the standard.

Kevin Patton: Another reason is, and I admit it’s selfish, I don’t want to miss out on the fun of dribbling a little more paint on my painting to see if that makes the outcome more beautiful. For me, that’s one of the many joys of teaching, the playing around, the experimentation. I know that when we’re looking for guidance, when we want some reassurance that what we’re doing in our own course is okay, we want to be able to look up the right answer somewhere. It’s really uncomfortable not really knowing for sure. But we do have some guidance.

Kevin Patton: For example, HAPS has that set of learning outcomes, and they have the HAPS exam. And those can help guide us, but even these are not meant to be standards really. They’re just tools to help us see if we’re on the right track or not, to help us spot areas where our students might be weak and then decide whether that’s really something that even needs to be in our course. Maybe they don’t need that concept in our specific program or maybe they’ll be learning that in a different course in our program. And after all, there’s no tool, even those tools, that are perfect.

Kevin Patton: And don’t forget, and I think this is really potent, we have colleagues in our professional network in organizations like HAPS and AAA and APS and all kinds of other organizations, and we have the community of listeners and contributors to this podcast and other podcasts and other media who can give us ideas or act as sounding boards.

Kevin Patton: Now, before I finally shut up about this, I want to remind new listeners that in some of the early episodes I describe more fully how I implement online tests and what happened when I started making all my tests cumulative. I have links to those early episode in the show notes and at the episode page at theAPprofessor.org.

Kevin Patton: So now that Krista has put this question about test frequency out there, an important and interesting question that we A&P teachers really should be thinking and talking about with each other, let’s hear from more of you. What’s your answer? What’s worked for you? What have you tried and didn’t work so well? Just call the podcast hotline at 1-833-546-6336. That’s 1-833 Lion Den, or record something on your phone and email it to podcast@theAPprofessor.org.

Aileen: The A&P Professor is hosted by Kevin Patton, professor, blogger, and textbook author in human anatomy and physiology.

Kevin Patton: No pesticides or herbicides were used in the production of this episode.

This podcast is sponsored by the
Human Anatomy & Physiology Society
HAPS logo

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Preview of Episode 34


Hi there. This is Kevin Patton, with a brief introduction to Episode 34 of The A&P Professor podcast, also known as TAPP Radio, an audio extravaganza for teachers of human anatomy and physiology.


Well, here’s what I have planned for Episode 34. First, I’m going to talk about a free neuroscience workshop that is available this summer, I’m going to discus ganglion cells in the retina of the eye, and the featured topic is actually divided into two parts, both of which have to do with dissection activities in the lab. The first part focuses on what I call the dissection list, which is going to help students as they perform the dissection during the lab session, and the second part focuses on a pre-dissection activity that makes the students’ time in lab way more efficient than if they don’t do the pre-dissection activity. But you’ll find out more in Episode 34.


Regular listeners of this podcast know that I have not been doing these preview episodes for very long, and all along, I’ve been asking you whether I should keep doing them, whether they’re helpful or not, and what you like about them, what you don’t like about them, what suggestions you have to make them better. And my friend Mindi Fried recently tweeted me with some feedback that I want to share with you.

She said in her Tweet, “You asked about preview episodes, and to be honest, I have mixed feelings. I love the book recommendations that aren’t in the regular episodes, as well as the word breakdown. Maybe have them shorter on what’s coming up, and more on the bonus content. Just my two cents.” Well Mindi, I think that’s really good and very useful feedback, and I agree. I don’t think I should be spending very much time on the topics, because I don’t really spend a lot of time on them in the full episode, so why rehash everything twice?

In the spirit of having it be just a preview, just a what’s coming up notice, you’ll notice that this time I really did just list the topics. I really didn’t dive deep into what’s going on or really describe them very fully at all because, well, that’s what the full episode is for. Let me know how you like them, Mindi and everybody else. Do you like them shorter like that, or do you not like them shorter like that? And I’d sure love to have some more input on what you don’t like and what you do like, and maybe some ideas for different kinds of bonus content that I can put into the preview, or maybe some regular feature of the full episode that you’d like to see on a more regular basis.

By the way, did you know that the one year anniversary of the first episode of The A&P Professor Podcast is coming up in late January? That’s right around the corner. I can’t believe it’s been a year already, and being as most of us are now on winter break, it might not be a bad idea to, I don’t know, have a binge listen to the entire year’s worth of episodes right now. You know, while you’re laying on a beach somewhere, sipping cold ice tea and really missing being in the classroom. And now might be a really great time to finally call in to the podcast hotline with that question or comment that you’ve been meaning to pass along. Or maybe you have something you want to share with other A&P teachers, a teaching tip, a favorite demonstration, a helpful clarification or update on a concept, a favorite resource, or maybe you know of someone you’d like to hear from on the podcast. Well, it’s really, really easy.

Just email me at podcast@theAPprofessor.org, or better yet, call in to the podcast hotline at 1-833-546-6336. That’s 1-833-LION-DEN. By the way, when you call, you’ll have the option to ring my phone and speak to me directly or leave a private voice mail or record a message for the podcast hotline. It’s all very modern. There’s even some of that soothing telephone music while you wait to be connected.

Word Dissections

Well, as usual, I have a few words to dissect, and the first term is a fun one to say, suprachiasmatic nucleus, otherwise know as the SCN. Isn’t that fun to say, suprachiasmatic? I mean, that’s almost as much fun as carbaminohemoglobin or endoplasmic reticulum. Anyway, suprachiasmatic means … Well, let’s break it apart. The first word part is supra-, which means “above or over.” The second word part is chi, C-H-I, and that comes from the Greek letter chi, which looks like our letter X. It’s the equivalent to our letter X, and chi is often used to represent an X shape, that is crossed lines, and in this case refers to where the optic tracts and nerves cross over one another and form an X shape structure that is inferior to the floor of the hypothalamus.

And then the -asma that comes after chi, that is what’s sometimes called a noun suffix, and what that means is it’s a suffix that is to designate that the term is a noun or a thing. We can literally translate -asma as “thing.” And then the T that comes after -asma doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a combining letter, and then the term ends with I-C, -ic, which means “relating to.” If we put it all together, suprachiasmatic means “relating to something that is above, or in this case, superior to where the optic nerves cross over and form that X.

And then the second part of the term is nucleus, suprachiasmatic nucleus, and nucleus literally means “kernel or core of something,” and we see that used a lot in biology, right? In the nucleus of an atom, in the nucleus of a cell, and when we get to nerve tissue, we usually use the term nucleus to refer to an area where we have a chunk of gray matter, usually operating as some sort of regulatory center. The suprachiasmatic nucleus is one of these gray matter areas, one of these regulatory centers, that is just above where the optic nerves and optic tracts cross over and form that X-shaped structure, and in fact, that is exactly where it is in the inferior floor of the hypothalamus.

Another term I want to dissect is melanopsin, and melan-, that part, M-E-L-A-N, literally means “black,” but it refers to really any black or dark brown color. And then ops, O-P-S, means “vision, and then that -in ending at the end of the term means “substance,” and is often used to designate a protein. Melanopsin is a protein that is dark, black or brownish, and it relates to vision. It’s one of the visual pigments, sort of like rhodopsin or photopsin, which I’ll get back to in a moment, but let’s focus on melanopsin.

Melanopsin is called that because it is dark brown, and it was discovered in these little dark brown spots called melanophores, that are in the skin of African-clawed frogs. And these are light sensitive skin cells. That was discovered in 1998, and then the following year, 1999, they found that same melanopsin in the mammalian retina. And then in 2000, the year after that that is, they discovered where they were in the retina. They’re in the ganglion cells, which remember, are connected to the rods and cones. There were, at that time, recognized as detecting light, but not for vision as much for being involved in circadian mechanisms.

That whole process is still being worked out, but it goes back quite a ways. And of course, the term melanopsin relates to the other visual pigments that we see in the retina, such as rhodopsin, which is found in the rods, and there it’s a pinkish pigment, although sometimes it’s called visual purple, but that, if you break that word down, that rhodo- part comes from a word that literally means “rose or rose-colored.” That makes sense, right? And then photopsin is found in the cones, and you may know that there are three different types, types one, two, and three, which makes sense, or the three different types of cones, which are often called red, green, and blue cones, so that’s melanopsin.

The third term that I want to break down is one that I just mentioned a moment ago, and that is circadian. If you break that down, the circa- part means “around or cycle,” and then the dia part means “day,” and then the -an ending means “relating to,” so circadian means “relating to the cycle of a day or going around a day.” It usually refers to or most precisely refers to our daily biological cycles, but it can be used more broadly to refer to time cycles in general, including those that are maybe a cycle that’s longer than a day or shorter than a day, although precisely it refers to a daily cycle. There’s our word dissections for this preview episode.

Sponsored by HAPS

This preview podcast is sponsored by HAPS, the Human Anatomy & Physiology Society, promoting excellence in the teaching of human anatomy and physiology for over 30 years. Go visit HAPS at theAPprofessor.org/haps. That’s H-A-P-S.

Book Club

This winter break, I have been reading a book called The Physician by Noah Gordon, and so I’m going to recommend that for the A&P Professor Book Club, because I think a lot of A&P professors would be interested in reading it, especially if you like historical fiction that also relates to what we do in human anatomy and physiology. Just to give you a brief introduction to it, it centers on a character named Rob Cole, who was born in London early in the 11th Century during what’s often called the Dark Ages in Europe. And at about nine years old, he’s orphaned and then indentured to a barber surgeon, and becomes his apprentice.

During his apprenticeship, he realizes that it’s the physicians rather than the barber surgeons who know most about how the human body is structured and how it works, and more importantly, how healing works and what we can do to promote healing and wellness. After his apprenticeship is over and then his master dies, he takes over the business and eventually travels to Persia, because he wants to become a physician, and Persia is the only place during those days where the only authentic medical schools were found. He studies with a person called Avicenna or Ibn Sina, who was an actual real person who ran a medical school in Persia at that time, so … I said, it’s historical fiction, so this guy is used fictionally here, but based on a real person. He was a very famous Persian physician and philosopher during what is often called the Islamic Golden Age. We were really making great strides in understanding human anatomy and physiology and medicine.

It’s really been a very fascinating look at what was going on at that time and that place, which having been raised and educated in the West, I honestly don’t know that much about, and it’s really very interesting to me to see what was going on there that was not going on at that time in Europe. It only was much later during what’s often called the Renaissance in Europe that we started to make that kind of progress. Very interesting book so far. I really recommend it, and you can go to theAPprofessor.org to the Book Club, or click on the link in the Show Notes or the episode page to see more about this book called The Physician by Noah Gordon.

Sponsored by AAA

A searchable transcript and a captioned audiogram of this preview episode are funded by AAA, the American Association of Anatomists, at anatomy.org. This is Kevin Patton, signing off until our next episode, and reminding you to keep your questions and comments coming. Why not call the podcast hotline right now at 1-833-LION-DEN? That’s 1-833-546-6336, or visit us at theAPprofessor.org. See you next time.

Last updated: September 15, 2021 at 21:33 pm

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